Q&A / 

December 21, 2008 AsktheBuilder News and Tips

What's in This Issue



I'm writing this on a quiet Sunday afternoon at the dining room table of my house in Cincinnati. Tristan and I got home late Friday night after an uneventful 15-hour drive from New Hampshire. My oldest daughter Meghan decided to follow behind leaving today, but a second vicious winter storm will delay that. My place in New Hampshire got 12 inches of snow from a storm that started on Friday and ended in the early morning Saturday. Another 20+ inches is forecast today with near blizzard conditions. We are hoping she makes it home for Christmas!

I know that this is going to be a tough Christmas for many. The news each day is very depressing, but unfortunately it's reality. Kathy and I started significant belt tightening months ago. I'm sure you are in the same situation. We are trying to focus on all the positives in our lives right now, not the negatives. It's hard to do that sometimes, but I feel things could be much worse. There are people all over the world who are really suffering.

I hope you can enjoy this time of year with your friends and family. A friend of mine, Jeff Walker, taught me a valuable thing several years ago. He uses the time between Christmas and New Years to reflect on the past year and set goals for the next year. It really has worked well for me. Just recently he sent me a powerful email. It contained advice in it that can help you in the tough times ahead.

The bottom line is that we must all learn new things to survive this economic storm. But learning means you MUST change your behavior. Any psychology 101 student knows this. Remember Pavlov's dog? I'm changing my behavior as we speak. I know where I've been wasting time, talent and resources. No more. How can I help you *learn*? What things in 2009 do you want to change by yourself around your home? Tell me, and I'll see if I can help.

Merry Christmas to you and your family!


Beginning tomorrow, the EPA has a new set of rules that affect houses, and people that own and work in them, 30-years old or older. These are houses that can contain lead paint. These rules are pretty stringent, and will help protect you against the sinister poison - lead. Read my past column about lead paint, and if that doesn't get your attention, nothing will.

I urge you to spend some time at the EPA website. The best thing to do is to read the summary of what is required of contractors who will be working on your home after tomorrow. The regulations get tighter in the near future.

You MUST read the information at the EPA website. I beg you to read all the information on this page, especially the parts about homeowners and contractors. See what's expected of the contractors, and how they must protect you and your home.


Erica, from Pittsburgh, PA emailed me the following: "I have a crack in the plaster of my spare bedroom, and am not sure of the proper way to fix it. The crack is about a foot and a half long, and directly follows the seam where the ceiling and wall meets (it is a sloped ceiling- so the crack is on a diagonal). The room is a bit colder than the rest of the house, and I first noticed the crack when the weather got much colder. Is this an easy fix? Can I fix it myself, and how?"

Erica, these plaster cracks often show up in late fall. The cracks are often places where houses relieve stress, just like arm, leg, neck and back joints in our own bodies. When the winter air starts to get drier, moisture leaves the wood framing in your home which causes shrinkage. This shrinkage creates tension and pulls apart the wood and the plaster with it. You can't stop this natural process, which is why you see cracks reappear year after year in the same place.

I've had great luck in the past filling these cracks with acrylic caulk when they are at their widest. This usually happens in late winter. If you can wait to repair this crack until the end of February, you'll get better results.

Try filling the crack at that time with caulk using a damp sponge to remove any caulk that smears onto the plaster. I apply the caulk to about 6 inches of the crack and swipe the excess off the crack with a flexible putty knife. The caulk usually will shrink after a few days. There are newer caulks that shrink very little, so look for that characteristic on the label. You may have to caulk it a second time to get the crack to look great.

To get professional results, after the caulk has dried, you may want to tape and finish the crack as you would any seam in new drywall. This has worked well for me in hundreds of cases.


About a month ago, you may have been one of the subscribers that brought to my attention a spray paint made for painting plastic. You'll enjoy this quick story. Think about all of the home-improvement products that are out there. They have to number in the tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands.

When I got back here to Cincinnati for Christmas two days ago, Kathy had a stack of mail for me to go through. In the stack was the most recent press kit from Krylon, the spray-paint people.

I opened the press kit, and there was a gorgeous catalogue of both new and existing products including the Fusion product of theirs that's made to work well on plastic. But tell me if you knew that Krylon had all these things:

  • a hammered-finish paint
  • a metallic-shimmer paint
  • a high-heat paint
  • OSHA Color paints
  • Farm and Implement paint to match common tractor colors
  • glass-frosting paint
  • chalkboard paint metallic
  • leafing paint

and many, many more. This is not intended to be a commercial for Krylon, but more an exercise to show you how difficult it is to stay up with all that is new.

This same problem happens each year at the enormous Builders Show. I've gone for many years to this venue. It's absolutely impossible to go to each booth and see all the new products at the show. To be honest, it's very frustrating. I'll do my best to keep you abreast of all that's new, but if you see something before I mention it, let me know!


I've shared with you many times how I get emails each time I send a newsletter. Nine days ago, I got this from Dustin Gebhardt:

"This week's newsletter really hit home for me, especially the part about your friend Mike working for Sears.  You see, I, too, work for Sears, albeit indirectly.  I am the Plating Engineer for Danaher Tool Group in Gastonia, NC.  The vast majority of sockets for Sears Craftsman tool kits are manufactured, plated, and packed right here.

Due to the uncertainty in the economy and subsequent downturn, we've recently had to reduce our workforce.  All of this has made me realize just how important "Made in the USA" means.  I really appreciate your Sears plug, and I wonder if you could mention the importance of "Made in the USA" in your next newsletter. Thanks for all of your advice."

Dustin, you bet I can. We still have manufacturing happening here in the USA, but much of it is shifting offshore. It started happening decades ago. Books have been written as to why, so I'm not about to discuss it. But I do feel it's important that we try to keep the money we all make here in the USA when we can. Transferring wealth to other nations is not in our best long-term interests.

This perfect economic storm that is building is a great time to reinvent ourselves. It should be a wake up call to all of us that we need to become more competitive in the global economy. Dustin, you need to know that I have quite a few of your sockets in my garage and workshop. Keep making them!


I got an email from Win Harrington. Win asked: "In the winter, should I disconnect the dryer vent to the outside and keep the heat in the basement?"

The answer is a huge NO! Doing this will pump vast amounts of water vapor into your home which can condense inside exterior walls and your attic creating mold, mildew and wood-rot issues.

If you want to extract the heat, you can lengthen the vent pipe inside your home as long as you are within code and the manufacturer's guidelines. The extra surface area of the metal pipe will radiate heat into your home.

You could also figure out a way to pass the vent pipe through a water jacket that heats a larger quantity of water. This water could then radiate the stored heat back into your home. Don't ask me to engineer that - it's just a random thought of mine.


Here is a last-minute Christmas gift idea. I'm testing a Rotozip RZ10-FT, which is a fantastic tool kit that allows you to make all sorts of cuts you need to do when installing ceramic tile or laminate flooring.

This kit has a wide assortment of bits and tool attachments that permit you to even cut the bottom of baseboards should you need to slide tile or laminate flooring under them in a remodeling situation.

I've used Rotozip power tools for years and can speak to their quality and time-saving attributes. If you got a gift certificate for Christmas or will have a credit from things you are returning, you may want to use it on this tool kit. If you care for this tool, it will last for many years.

I'm embarrassed to say that I have no link for you to see this wonderful kit. I went to the Rotozip website and there is nothing there for it. I'm just as stunned as you might be. I even went to Amazon, and there is nothing there as well. You can see the actual power tool - the RZ10, but not the entire kit. Sorry about that!


Wait until you read my review of this amazing chainsaw.

Do you have to repair floor grout?

Are you thinking of installing wood fencing? You'll discover tips in this column.

I've got radiant floor heating in my New Hampshire house. Oooooouuuh is it ever nice!

Click here to read past copies of my newsletters.

Merry Christmas!

Tim Carter
Founder - AsktheBuilder.com   - Do it Right, not Over.



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